While the term sustainability lingers in the ears of Washington, D.C. locals, true sustainability rarely is as visible as the transformation of the Nation’s most heavily polluted water body, the Anacostia River. Poised above the Anacostia River is D.C.’s South Capitol Street Bridge, which carries more than 55,000 vehicles daily and it will soon be retired for the construction of a new gateway bridge that will carry commuters into Washington, D.C. While this aligns with D.C.’s desire for an emphasized gateway to the South entrance of the Capitol, plans for the old South Capitol Bridge are undetermined and under realized.
This very topic is the focus and thesis of University of Maryland, Master of Landscape Architecture student Kameron Aroom. The reclamation of a soon to be forgotten vehicular viaduct highlights the existing infrastructure of the South Capitol Street Bridge which serves as a model of reuse and celebration rather than one of demolition and disinterest.
In the case of the River Park, Aroom’s design wraps the bridge with light. At night the bridge becomes a focal point, hovering above the river, with lights emphasizing the reused infrastructure of the bridge. During the day the bridge acts as a visible model for offsetting environmental degradation, by directly intercepting storm water and cleansing the runoff before it flows to the Anacostia.
While drawing inspiration from the Highline in New York City, the context of Aroom’s urban design allows for a unique interpretation that sets apart the South Capitol Bridge from other pedestrian thoroughfares. Using the arc of the bridge as topography allows for a more episodic procession. The new design shows off suspended bike lanes that undulate above and below the surface of the bridge and walkways that move through distinct zones, including the bosque, valley, meadow, lawn, and outlook.
Planning and design that encourages the reuse of existing infrastructure, rather than demolition, is a model of urban design sustainability that is necessary in this era. Engaging with the public while servicing the environment and celebrating the form, are principles that carry not only this urban design, but also our way of living into a more viable future.